An Interview with Bob Kravitz
“On the Dungy column, I felt that Tony’s personal choices were fair game because he had spent so much of his life guiding others on the personal choices they make..Just because Tony is a man of faith doesn’t mean he’s above criticism.”
“I think listening is a highly underrated skill in our business. Listen to your sources. Listen to your inner voice. Don’t do interviews; have conversations.”
Position: Columnist, Indianapolis Star.
Born: New York, 1960.
Education: Indiana, 1982, journalism
Career: Bergen Record, San Diego Union, Pittsburgh Press, Sports Illustrated, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Rocky Mountain News, Indianapolis Star 2000 –
Personal: Married, two daughters
Favorite restaurant (home): Sullivan’s Steakhouse. “Nothing fancy – just steak and potatoes and great martinis.”
Favorite restaurant (road): any Legal Seafoods, Boston.
Favorite hotel: Marriott Riverwalk, San Antonio. “You’re 15 steps from all the madness.”
Bob Kravitz, excerpted from the Indianapolis Star, January 22, 2008.
I am uncomfortable.
I am uncomfortable because I simply can’t talk myself out of writing the following words, words that will incur the near-universal wrath of a city that has come to revere Tony Dungy, not only as a coach but as a man: I think that by returning to the Colts, and doing so after his entire family moved out of Indianapolis and back to Tampa, Fla., for reasons he prefers remain private, Dungy has revealed himself as something of a hypocrite.
As one of the chief spokesmen for All Pro Dad, an organization dedicated to strengthening the bonds of fathers with their children, he has spoken passionately about the importance of men putting their faith and family first, before football and all else.
So I don’t understand:
What came first here?
If family is really first, doesn’t Dungy decide to live in the same city with his wife and children? Remember, Dungy not only has one adult daughter and a high school-age son. He and his wife also have three little ones, a first-grader, a kindergartener and an infant.
Dungy said Monday that he had the support of his family, but my guess is the three youngest ones didn’t have much input.
Again, I’m uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable about passing judgment on anybody or anything deeper than a decision to punt on fourth-and-2. I’m especially loath to pass judgment on the way another man handles his personal business.
But Dungy has used his pulpit as a head football coach to advise others in the art of fatherhood, and has left himself open to charges of hypocrisy.
Q. What was reader reaction to the ‘I am uncomfortable’ column – you predicted ‘near-universal wrath’?
A. Sometimes you write a column and you’re surprised the next day by reader reaction. Not this one. As I walked out of the Colts training facility, I told one my comrades with the Star, “The shit’s gonna hit the fan tomorrow.”
I probably spent more time tweaking that column than any other I’ve done. I try to be careful with everything I write, but I knew all hell was gonna break loose, so I tweaked it more than any other column. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was hard to write. Tony Dungy is universally beloved not only here in Indy but everywhere. This wasn’t like ripping Mike Vanderjagt. This is Tony “Quiet Strength” Dungy. I might as well have taken a shot at Mother Theresa.
But I felt strongly about this issue, and I knew several other people – journalists and civilians – had the same nagging questions. But they weren’t in a position to communicate those concerns. If I was taken aback by anything, it was the fact I received a handful of e-mails from former college buddies who sent me really nasty missives.
Q. How difficult was it to write?
A. When I initially sat down to write it (after two hours of internal debate and some conversations with folks in the press room) it came pretty easily. I felt strongly about the issue. But after I got it down, it took hours to finish it off. I didn’t want to leave any small holes in the argument. I wanted people to understand that I felt uncomfortable broaching this subject. And I wanted to make sure it was written with such precision that there would be no issues of misinterpretation. Ultimately, the only column I wrote that was more difficult was the one the day after his son committed suicide.
Q. Dungy’s reaction?
A. Actually, I told Tony the day I wrote it that I was going to do this column. I told him I didn’t want to blindside him because I have too much respect for him. He was great about it, as you might expect. He said he understood how some people could reach the conclusion I reached, but he did what he had to do. Now, this was before the column. I haven’t seen him since because the Colts are all scattered around the country. But my guess is, when we see one another at mini-camp this summer, it will be business as usual.
Q. Other difficult columns you’ve written?
A. There have been a bunch, but not many come immediately to mind. In Denver, I accidentally discovered that Dante Bichette had quite a rap sheet of domestic violence. He had gotten his life together in recent years, but right after OJ, this was a column that had to be written. That was tough because Dante was one of the most popular guys on the team, plus he was popular with the media covering the team. We had to be separated a few times that next spring training.
Q. Any columns you wish you had a do-over?
A. There have been a number I wished I had back, but not because I wrote something harsh about somebody else. Mostly wrong-headed observations: In 1998, insisting the Broncos were cooked after a loss in SF. They went on to win the Super Bowl. In 2006, writing the Colts were done after they lost to Houston. They went on to win the Super Bowl. In 1996, writing the Broncos ought to think about trading John Elway. But, then, I think every columnist in America has a handful or two of those kinds of columns.
Q. Guidelines on sensitive issues?
A. Like almost everything in journalism, the rules aren’t specifically codified. Ultimately, it becomes a matter of personal judgment — not just the columnist’s judgment, but the editors’ judgment as well.
On the Dungy column, I felt that Tony’s personal choices were fair game because he had spent so much of his life guiding others on the personal choices they make. If this happened with Jeff Saturday or Marvin Harrison, I wouldn’t have uttered a word. But this was happening less than a year after the publication of a best-selling book in which he spoke quite eloquently about the primacy of family. Just because Tony is a man of faith doesn’t mean he’s above criticism.
Q. You’re known for being more judicious than confrontational – is that fair to say?
A. I think the Colts, Pacers and IU administration would argue I’m over-the-top confrontational and not at all judicious. I prefer the former, though. I like to think I take my shots when they’re warranted, but I don’t live on a diet of beanballs. I like to think I’ve got several different pitches in my arsenal.
I went to the US Swimming Nationals here in Indy and wrote a column on a lifeguard who was charged with watching over a pool of the world’s greatest swimmers. I thought that was funny, and the column worked out pretty well. I think if you dedicated every column to yelling, it becomes transparent and readers tune you out. That’s why I like Plaschke (LA Times), Posnanski (KC Star), Bianchi (Orlando Sentinel) and those guys so much. They can write anything.
Q. Who do you read to keep up with sports?
A. I admit I call up sportpages.com, check out the top 10. If I have the time on a given day, I’ll check out Posnanski, Plaschke, Jay Mariotti (Chicago Sun-Times) just to see who he’s eviscerating that day, Michael Wilbon (Washington Post), Whitlock (KC Star), Sally Jenkins (Washington Post), Mike Bianchi and Michael Rosenberg (Detroit Free Press). I’ll also make it a point to check out any long feature written by Wright Thompson (espn.com), who I’ve followed since he was in college. Oh, and Albom (Detroit Free Press), whether he’s writing sports or something else. He’s still got an incredible touch. I’m also starting to check out deadspin.com and sites like that.
Q. How do you pick columns – are you influenced by web hits?
A. It’s usually a no-brainer, really. I just look for the hottest issue of the day. Sometimes that can be a little difficult in this market, with two major league teams and colleges. But I try to keep it local, while occasionally touching on national subjects. I try to think like a reader: When I pick up tomorrow’s paper, what do I want my columnist writing about?
As for web hits, I think you’re going to be influenced to some degree, but it’s dangerous to become a slave to those talkback items. This past Sunday, I wrote a rare feature column on a Bosnian player for Purdue. I got 80 talkbacks. I usually get 800. But it was a good, solid column, and sometimes you write pieces like those, and you’re not going to get much feedback.
Q. Advice for wannabe columnists?
A. Write a lot. Write for your junior high school paper. Your high school paper, and college, and get internships during the summer. And read. Read a lot. And I’m not talking about sports books, although there are several good ones out there. Read the classics. Read William Styron. Read Norman Mailer. Read Tom Wolfe. Read the great craftsmen (and women) of the English language.
Finally, learn how to listen. I think listening is a highly underrated skill in our business. Listen to your sources. Listen to your inner voice. Don’t do interviews; have conversations.
Bob Kravitz, excerpted from the Indianapolis Star, August 3, 2007:
For a couple of years now, I’ve been on a mission. I have looked the world over for someone who has a cushier gig than Indianapolis Colts punter Hunter Smith, who gets less work than a tailor in a nudist colony.
Well, this week at the ConocoPhillips
USA Swimming Championships at the Natatorium at IUPUI — our slogan, “If you can breathe here, you can breathe in Beijing” — I finally found her.
The owner of the world’s easiest job.
Her name is Allouri Stahley. She is a 22-year-old IUPUI student, born and raised in Greenwood.
At the U.S. national swim meet, where the pools are filled with the country’s greatest swimmers, including Michael Phelps and Dara Torres.
Is there a less necessary job on the planet?
Outside of, I don’t know, being a Viagra rep at Lilith Fair?
It’s like being an auto mechanic in Amish country.
It’s like being Dick Cheney’s joke writer.
It’s like being Rosie O’Donnell’s personal trainer.
It’s like . . . oh, never mind.
At this meet, the only ones getting less action than the lifeguards are the docs at the liposuction concession.
This is Stahley’s third major meet in Indianapolis. She hasn’t had to save anybody. Yet.
“I think a girl slipped in the bathroom here the other day,” Stahley told me. “But I’m not a hundred percent sure.”…
(SMG thanks Bob Kravitz for his cooperation)